1819 - 1888

Impact of greenhouse gases

In 1856, Eunice Newton Foote published the paper titled “Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun’s rays”, which marked the first step in the linkage of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.

She experimented with glass cylinders filled with gases present in our atmosphere, exposed them to the sunlight, and monitor their temperature change. She discovered that the cylinder filled with moist air got warmer than the cylinder with dry air, and the cylinder filled with CO2 became even warmer. With CO2 capturing the most heat, she suggested that higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere could yield higher heating of the Earth.

At the time, her research was not given enough recognition and, although her findings were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, they were presented by a male scientist. Additionally, following researchers did not cite her work.

Three years after Eunice’s publication, John Tyndall conducted similar research, which was recognised as the foundations of modern climate science. While John Tyndall’s work advanced an explanation of why the heating effect was observed, it was Eunice Newton Foote who first made this observation. Sadly, only recently Eunice Newton Foote has been recognised as pioneer predicting the effects of greenhouse gases on the Earth’s temperature.

Eunice Newton Foote, scientists and feminist, is again an example of someone extraordinary who was hidden and forgotten. What could has she accomplish with the sufficient support and acknowledgement.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.